THE INTERACTION OF RACE, GENDER, AND AGE IN CRIMINAL SENTENCING: THE PUNISHMENT COST OF BEING YOUNG, BLACK, AND MALE

Authors


  • Darrell Steffensmeier is a Professor of Sociology and Crime/Law/Justice at Pennsylvania State University. His research interests include courts and sentencing, correlates of crime (age, gender, ethnicity), organized crime and criminal careers, and joint application of qualitative and quantitative methods. He is completing an update of The Fence: In the Shadow of Worlds titled Confessions of a Dying Thief.

  • Jeffery Ulmer is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University. His research interests include courts and sentencing, criminology/deviance theory, organized crime, and contemporary sociological theory. He is an author of a recently published book titled Social Worlds of Sentencing: Court Communities Under Sentencing Guidelines (SUNY Press).

  • John Kramer is a Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Pennsylvania State University. He served as Staff Director of the US. Sentencing Commission from July 1996 through August 1998. As well as working with the development of sentencing guidelines, his research focuses on sentencing and sentencing disparity. His most recent articles appeared in Criminology and Justice Quarterly.

Abstract

Prior theory and research on sentencing oversimplify the role of race, gender and age in judicial decision making. In this article we present a “focal concerns” theory of judicial decision making to frame hypotheses regarding the effects on sentencing of these social statuses, both singly and in combination. Analyzing statewide sentencing outcomes in Pennsylvania for 1989–1992, we find that, net of controls: (1) young black males are sentenced more harshly than any other group, (2) race is most influential in the sentencing of younger rather than older males, (3) the influence of offender's age on sentencing is greater among males than females, and (4) the main effects of race, gender, and age are more modest compared to the very large differences in sentencing outcomes across certain age-race-gender combinations. These findings demonstrate the importance of considering the joint effects of race, gender, and age on sentencing, and of using interactive rather than additive models.

Ancillary